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Peter T Chattaway

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

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Apparently this film was re-issued on DVD last summer by Water Bearer, a label I'd never heard of before, as part of a boxed set of Pasolini's films. Amazon.com is selling the individual disc for US$26.96 and the boxed set, which also includes Accatone and The Hawks and the Sparrows, for US$71.96; it seems the main reason to get the boxed set would be to get the complete documentary Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Filmmaker's Life, which is spread out over the three discs. Does anyone know how the Water Bearer disc compares to the long-out-of-print Image DVD? Or how it compares to any non-R1 editions of this film?

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Anders   

Ebert has The Gospel According to St. Matthew in his Great Movies column this Sunday.

Definitely makes me want to track this one down, though there seems to be a shortage of Jesus films at most of the video stores in Saskatoon.

Ebert has some interesting comments on the film (and Gibson's film as well). What do those of you who have seen the Pasolini film think of Ebert's take on it?

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I first saw it as part of a class in undergraduate school in '69 or '70. The bad news, I slept through most of it. A couple years ago I got a copy from a library, and made it through, but it was hard. I think there is something about the black/white, and the hard to read subtitles that can lull one to sleep. But staying with it does give you what I think is the best Jesus movie ever.

It is hard to find. It is one of the few important films that isn't in the LA County Library system.

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SDG   

It's interesting that you say that, Darrell. My local library is very well stocked with foreign / hard to find / independent videos, and I was quite surprised to find that they also didn't have Pasolini's film, nor did any library in the system.

It's got a new DVD release and is available at Amazon, but for some reason it generally ships in 6 to 7 days instead of 1 or 2. I've been planning for a couple of weeks to review it for my Holy Week or Easter Week video picks, but didn't act soon enough to get it in time.

I happened to drop a note to Doug Cummings asking him if he had any bright ideas... and he very generously offered to GIVE me his letterboxed VHS version of the film (which his Region 2 DVD makes obsolete).

Thanks Doug! biggrin.gif

Be looking for my review within a few weeks.

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Haven't got time to read Ebert's article yet, but will eventually. For now, all I'll say is that Pasolini is perhaps the only director who has ever captured the true nature of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded, in a fitting cinematic format.

SDG wrote:

: I happened to drop a note to Doug Cummings asking him if he had any

: bright ideas... and he very generously offered to GIVE me his letterboxed

: VHS version of the film (which his Region 2 DVD makes obsolete).

Ah yes, must get into the habit of checking out my Region 2 options more often, now that I have a player that can handle such discs ...

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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DanBuck   

For now, all I'll say is that Pasolini is perhaps the only director who has ever captured the true nature of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded, in a fitting cinematic format.

Does this include the Life of Bryan version?

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DanBuck wrote:

: Does this include the Life of Bryan version?

Ha! Yes -- though Life of Brian does expose one reason why the other movies' versions of the Sermon on the Mount are very, very implausible.

My point is that, on a textual level, the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7, and even the Sermon on the Plain in Luke's gospel, most likely do not record actual SERMONS -- Jesus didn't just stand there for a few hours rattling off a bunch of short stories and one-liners and hoping everyone would remember them. Instead, the sermon is a narrative device that allows the writer to gather Jesus' sayings together -- and Pasolini intuitively picks up on this, by shooting each of the sayings separately and editing them together in a montage.

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MattPage   

I dunno, Son of Man (Ok not technically a film) does a good job as well. IMHO. This maybe partly cos they had fewer actors available (due to financial and space restrictions - no to mention it being a play), and also cos its so well written, and not the extended monologue, but also cos its not set up as some set piece. It is closer to classic sermon style, but I don't have a problem with that. I agree that Jesus may not have climbed a mountain and done a long preach, but I guess my take is that Jesus probably made the same statements a number of times, in different places (still not seen a Jesus film do THAT - oh except doesn't this happen in the Messiah?), as all good preacher's do. I mean on a human level if you've just penned the best sermon ever (the sermon on the mount) then you're bound to re-use it), and probably add new bits, edit other bits out etc.

So whilst the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7 presents a systematic catalogue of Jesus' best teaching moments, I think it very plausible that those were born out of a number more normal talks like we see in Son of Man, and then cobbled together later on by Mr.Q / Matthew (depending on your theory of preference).

Actually other films do kind of capture this as well by dispersing the Sermon on the Mount throughout the film IIRC.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: I guess my take is that Jesus probably made the same statements a

: number of times, in different places . . . as all good preacher's do. I

: mean on a human level if you've just penned the best sermon ever (the

: sermon on the mount) then you're bound to re-use it . . .

Oh, absolutely. I have made this point more than once, myself (especially after hearing Marcus Borg make the point more than once wink.gif ).

Oh, BTW, I think the London Times recently profiled the actor who played Jesus in this film, but you have to subscribe to read anything on their web site.

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MattPage   

No probs - I'd been meaning to check this out anyway ever since I heard about the chess thing the other day.

Matt

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SDG   

Translation as De-canonization: Matthew's Gospel According to Pasolini.(filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini)(Critical Essay)

Quite a long article that I've not had the chance to read yet, but looks like it might be interesting.

I gleaned some useful factual information from this article, but the author's basic angle about "de-canonization" seems quite misguided to me. A significant part of her argument revolves around the idea that "Pasolini's Matthew de-sanctifies the biblical Matthew," when Pasolini himself, speaking perhaps as a Marxist-atheist second and a poet first, deplored the trend of "deconsecrating": "That is a fashion I hate. I want to 'reconsecrate' as much as possible."

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Just wondering, SDG, did you happen to get that quote from me? I know it's a quote I've brought up elsewhere, possibly on the mother board:

It's not a practising Catholic work, it seems to me an unpleasant and terrible work, at certain points outright ambiguous and disconcerting, particularly the figure of Christ. It's only externally that the film has characteristic features of a Catholic work. But internally nothing I've ever done has been more fitted to me myself than
The Gospel
for the reasons I talked about before -- my tendency always to see something sacred and mythic and epic in everything, even the most humdrum, simple and banal objects and events. So in this sense
The Gospel
was just right for me, even though I don't believe in the divinity of Christ, because my vision of the world is religious -- it's a mutilated religion because it hasn't got any of the external characteristics of religion, but it is a religious vision of the world, so making
The Gospel
was to reach the maximum of the mythic and the epic. Besides, the whole film is full of my own personal motifs -- e.g. all the minor characters from the agricultural and pastoral proletariat of Southern Italy are mine completely, and I only realized this when I saw it again now; and I also realized that the Christ figure is all mine, because of the terrible ambiguity there is in him.

[ snip ]

Besides, along with this method of reconstruction by analogy, there is the idea of the myth and of epicness which I have talked about so much: so when I told the story of Christ I didn't reconstruct Christ as he really was. If I had reconstructed the history of Christ as he really was I would not have produced a religious film because I am not a believer. I don't believe Christ is the son of God. I would have produced a positivist or marxist reconstruction at the most, and thus at best a life which could have been the life of any one of the five or six thousand saints there were preaching at that time in Palestine. But I did not want to do this, because I am not interested in de-consecrating: this is a fashion I hate, it is petit bourgeois. I want to re-consecrate things as much as possible, I want to re-mythicize them. I did not want to reconstruct the life of Christ as it really was, I wanted to do the story of Christ plus two thousands years of Christian translation, because it is the two thousand years of Christian history which have mythicized this biography, which would otherwise be an almost insignificant biography as such. My film is the life of Christ plus two thousand years of story-telling about the life of Christ. That was my intention.

That's from pages 77-78 and 82-82 of Faber & Faber's Pasolini on Pasolini.

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Hi. I saw this Saturday -- on film, no less. Someone please explain what is so awesome about it, particularly after Jesus comes of age. Also, someone tell me if there is some meaning in The Crucificition being virtually bloodless.

PTC:

: For now, all I'll say is that Pasolini is perhaps the

: only director who has ever captured the true nature

: of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded, in a fitting

: cinematic format.

Yes. But also it was kinda boring.

Dale

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Hi.  I saw this Saturday -- on film, no less.  Someone please explain what is so awesome about it

It's awesome because it's, like, so Marxist, dude.

At least that's what a lot of critics think.

I do happen to think it's an awesome film, mainly as an antidote to the wretched Hollywood "Bible" productions that preceded it. Yeah, on subsequent viewings it is boring in stretches, but the first time I watched it, I was transfixed.

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SDG   
Hi.  I saw this Saturday -- on film, no less.  Someone please explain what is so awesome about it, particularly after Jesus comes of age.

Here is my best shot at answering your question, as well as discussing some of the less awesome or curious aspects of the film.
Also, someone tell me if there is some meaning in The Crucificition being virtually bloodless.

That is one of the curious aspects -- it almost plays as a depiction of a passion play rather than a depiction of the passion -- about as persuasive as the passion play at the end of Perceval.

Compare to the complete innocence of Herodias's daughter Salome (playing jacks!) and her dance for Herod -- hard to imagine that performance eliciting a promise for anything up to half the kingdom.

The only thing I can think at the moment is that perhaps Pasolini wanted to avoid absolutely anything like a spectacle? Somebody with more insight please say why this might be the case. Or offer a better theory.

Yes.  But also it was kinda boring.

Yes. But one of the things I've gained over the last few years is a very high threshold for boring. I even kind of like it sometimes; I don't know if I'd go as far as all that, but it's certainly a provocative POV.

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MattPage   
Hi.  I saw this Saturday -- on film, no less.  Someone please explain what is so awesome about it, particularly after Jesus comes of age.  Also, someone tell me if there is some meaning in The Crucificition being virtually bloodless.

Well I suppose I should step up to the plate (look at me with my American sports metaphors) - although I'm hoping someone else will step up with some insights about neo-realism, which I still don't really get.

The things I like about this film probably falll into four main categories

1 - On a personal level I find this film Jesus amongst the most challenging. Before (and after) watching this for the first time I was basically fairly happy that Jesus wasn't like that, he was much more "relational" to quote a film. But on reading a number of articles / books (including one that later turned out to be by a certain Peter T Chattaway - which I quoted in a discussion with him before realising that it was his particular insight blushing.gif )I became aware of four important points

a - I have no idea what Jesus' expression was when he said the things he did in the gospel - its all my pre-assumptions

b - I had issues with Jesus saying things ina way that didn't fit with my pre-conceptions

c - Historical studies of Jesus have shown us that we tend to re-create Jesus into a better version of ourselves

d - If we take Jesus as the best revelation of God we have then given "c" above its very easy for us to make God in our own image. Which is obviously unhelpful

So I began to realise that films such as this that take scripture, and present it in a way that I'm unhappy with are actually vital to my faith and for not just portraying God as a sinless version of Matt Page. (This is different from a version of Jesus' life such as Last Temptation which isn't based on the gospels per se - although I still believe that can be useful)

So that's the personal level

2 - The soundtrack is amazing - really atmospheric whilst also containing and eccletic (oooh) mix of styles from different ages and cultures - find me another film where the sountrack is so effortlessly diverse

3 - The camera work is much more innovative than most Jesus films. The bobbing behind the crowd in places, the trying to keep up with Jesus as he marches around, the long takes which draw so much out of the "actors" faces (e.g. the annuciation scene is incredible). I've also heard that the chiascuro (such a big word I can't even spell it - but it means the interplay of light and shade doesn't it?) is also meant to be amazing on real film (and here I'm jealous of you Dale for seeing it on film). The black and white is great. The realism of having real peasant people playing these parts rather than Hollywood style perfect-teethed actors is top drawer too.

4 - For it's time, presenting such a political Jesus was very radical. Contrast to the previous Jesus film King of Kings - there Jesus is a bit political, but only really in being pro-"peace". Here Jesus is confrontational of authority, and yes pro the ordinary people as Jesus was

5 - The whole Neo-realism thing, which other than the few aspects I've pulled out above I still don't unerstand

Ok tht's five - but I rate it anyhow. Its defintely one that improves on further viewings. For example this Jesus despite being famously angry actually smiles more than any other pre-Visual Bible:Matthew Jesus (Someone get THAT guy a tradgedy)

: Also, someone tell me if there is some meaning in The Crucificition being virtually bloodless

Well again in the context of trhe films around it - none of them were very like The Passion. In 1961's King of Kings the crucifixion was so sanitised that they even shaved Jeffrey Hunter's armpits! That said whereas most of the other films of the time showed Jesus to be serenly having nails put through his hands Irazoqui's screams at this point were radical (in the proper sense of the word) and in some ways more powerful (IMO) than the exccessive gore of "The Passion" (in some ways). From a historical point of view although the flogging may have been as graphic as Gibson's, even his film (albeit perhaps unwittingly) suggests that it could also have been less graphic (in at least 2 ways).

Hope that helps - and anyone with any greater insight into neo-realism would be most welcome!

Matt

PS - Here's another good review from Derek Malcolm in the Guardian

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stu   

I like this film a lot, but agree it is a little boring in places. Things I like about it are as follows:

The soundtrack is really well done, as already mentioned - especially Odetta's 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child' which is the spooky mournful bluesy choral thing that keeps appearing.

I actually found the crucifixion scene was so different that it affected me. There's a shot where Jesus' arm falls down limp as they take him off the cross, which got across the simple fact of death pretty well, I thought.

All the people have interesting faces.

Jesus is very difficult to work out in this film, which at the moment I am increasingly finding to be the case in reading the gospels. I like the fact that Pasolini read through Matthew one day and then decided to make the film - and to be fair on him, you could quite easily see Jesus as he does from one reading. Like Matt says, we have no idea how Jesus said anything, so I like seeing a completely different interpretation of the same words.

The opening scene with Mary and Joseph is really really really good.

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